Apple App Store anniversary marks ten years of proprietary appsploitation

It's been ten years since Apple opened the App Store. This created a whole new industry through which third party app creators and Apple themselves found new ways to threaten user freedom with technical tricks and legal loopholes. Since the beginning, we at the Free Software Foundation have recognized the threats posed by the iPhone and have reported on Apple on and DefectiveByDesign, while free software supporters around the world have been taking action.

Apple controls your apps

The only way to install apps on a non-jailbroken iPhone is through the iOS App Store -- this means that your device can only run what Apple wants it to run.

Apple acts as a gatekeeper for which apps you're allowed to access. They control what becomes available -- and not every app gets to stay there. They regularly remove apps for many reasons and sometimes no reason at all. They claim this enhances your security, but are happy to abuse their power: Apple blocked updates to messaging app Telegram in Russia, after demands from the government. This was after Telegram was removed entirely from the App Store, only to be made available again later. When BitCoin posed a threat to Apple Pay, they removed all BitCoin apps.

Other instances of app removal include July 2017, when Apple removed apps that circumvented the Great Firewall, making them no longer available in the App Store. GNU Go was removed after issues with GPL compliance on Apple's end.

Apple loves DRM

Apple loves Digital Restrictions Management (DRM)! DRM is the use of technology (including software) to restrict access to digital media like ebooks, games, and music. Apple's use of DRM not only steps on the freedoms of users, but has proven to be downright dangerous. In 2016, AceDeceiver became the first iOS trojan exploiting flaws in iOS DRM.

In a DRM-free a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. - Steve Jobs

When DRM was dropped from the iTunes store, Steve Jobs wrote an essay titled "Thoughts on Music," which took a firm stance against DRM. It has since been removed from the Apple Web site. In it, Jobs called for the world to abandon DRM technologies, and for Apple to embrace a DRM-free future. This is clearly no longer Apple's stance on DRM.

Apple loves surveillance

In addition to colluding with Russia, Apple has allowed itself to be the tool of other governments looking to monitor and control their populations. For example: the National Security Agency's (NSA) PRISM program, which allows the NSA access to data, including "search history, the content of emails, file transfers, and live chats" of Apple users. While Apple claimed no knowledge of the program, the NSA reported that the company gave them this access. Whether or not this is true, we can never know due to the opaque and proprietary nature of Apple's code and business practices.

The iPhone X brought with it facial recognition capabilities. In light of government use of facial recognition and government contracts with Amazon to use their Rekognition facial scanning technology, we are deeply concerned about the transparency and surveillance issues associated with the widespread deployment of this technology.

While Apple has taken strong stances against certain types of government surveillance, they support surveillance in other contexts. By building proprietary technology designed to lock users into a system, they enable the possibility for gross surveillance and limitless anti-privacy policies. Apple CEO Tim Cook is currently preventing this. Should Cook change his mind, decide that being pro-privacy is no longer profitable, or leave Apple, things could change. There are no guarantees a new CEO would not kowtow to government demands.

Apple also offers other forms of surveillance, like the Screen Time feature, which allows users to control the ability to access different apps and functionality on an iPhone. This might seem great if you're looking to keep yourself off Twitter, but it's also a tool of monitoring and control. Tools like this can (and will) be used by domestic abusers looking to control other people's access to technology.

There are better choices you can make!

What can you do?

Talk to Apple

One thing we always recommend is contacting Apple about your stance on iOS devices.

Talk to others

If you're looking to get more hands-on, visit your local Apple store with flyers and stickers and hand them out to people going into the store. We also have DRM-specific flyers.

If you're organizing an event or action, email and we can arrange to send you some items to hand out (gratis within the United States, for the cost of shipping outside the United States).

Buy a better mobile device

There are more ethical options for your mobile needs. Technoethical -- a company that sells a number of Respects Your Freedom (RYF) devices -- also sells mobile devices. These mobile devices come pre-installed with Replicant (see below), a version of Android that has had the nonfree parts removed. Purism is also working on creating a mobile device. (Please note that at the moment there are no RYF-certified mobile devices.)

Get better software

Android and iOS aren't your only choices for a mobile operating system! Replicant is a free software OS. We help support Replicant through the Working Together for Free Software fund, and consider it to be a High Priority Project.

Rather than using a proprietary app store, you can download and install apps using F-Droid, a free software marketplace that features free software and is free itself! F-Droid works on Replicant and Android devices.

Join a project

Projects like Replicant and F-Droid are always looking for volunteers with a range of skill sets, including designers, developers, translators, and writers. You can also package for F-Droid, creating a more robust selection of apps available.